UN reports that Food has run out in rebel-held Aleppo

civil_war_in_syria

Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005. Fifteen days after an unprecedented disaster struck the nations of South Asia, the international effort to provide relief and assistance to millions of victims is gathering steam in the field and increasing amounts of aid is making its way to those who need it. Attempting to meet the needs of the 12 stricken nations will bring representatives from more than 80 governments together in Geneva today to plan a long-term recovery effort for the region. (KEYSTONE/Laurent Gillieron)
Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005.

The last remaining food rations are being distributed in besieged rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, the UN has said.

Humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland warned that without a resupply there would be no food left to hand out next week to the 275,000 people living there.

Mr Egeland ruled out airdrops of food, explaining that they were not possible in densely-populated urban areas.

Humanitarian agencies have been unable to get into rebel-held Aleppo since the government siege resumed in September, and the last time significant aid supplies were delivered was in July. The area is under siege by government forces with help from Russian air power.

Government forces launched a major assault on eastern Aleppo in September.

Since then, troops have pushed into several outlying areas with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias and Russian air strikes.

aleppo-map

 

On October 28, an alliance of opposition fighters, including Islamist militants, started a major offensive to break the government siege, which has been in place on eastern Aleppo since July. But their progress slowed after early gains.

Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September
Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September

The UN says weeks of air strikes and shelling have killed more than 700 civilians in the east, while rocket-fire has left scores dead in the government-controlled west.

“It is a horrendous situation,” said Egeland, the United Nations’ top envoy on humanitarian efforts in Syria.

The Norwegian diplomat said the UN appealed again last week to the conflict parties to let food, medicine and health workers into eastern Aleppo, and to allow the evacuation of some 300 patients along with their families.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that Russia is continuing its humanitarian pause of air attacks on eastern Aleppo, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

However, Egeland noted that continuing heavy fighting on the ground has made aid efforts impossible.

In addition, the warring sides have raised various conditions that have further complicated UN efforts.

“I haven’t seen a place where there has been so much politicization, manipulation of aid as we have seen in Syria,” he said at a press briefing.

 Egeland urged the United States, which backs Syrian anti-government rebels, and Russia to use their influence to unblock the humanitarian operation.

“Parties that are sponsoring the parties on the ground have to help us more,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that a solution would be found.

The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.
The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.

In the divided city of Aleppo, regime forces made more advances Thursday into areas which were taken by opposition rebels last month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The monitoring group said regime troops and their allies managed to take over the Dahiyat al-Assad region west of the city.

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Iran Is Sending Elite Fighters Into The U.S. and Europe

Quds Force 01The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s elite military force, is sending assets to infiltrate the United States and Europe at the direction of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to recent Farsi-language comments from an Iranian military leader.

 “The whole world should know that the IRGC will be in the U.S. and Europe very soon,” Salar Abnoush, deputy coordinator of Iran’s Khatam-al-Anbia Garrison, an IRGC command front, was quoted as saying in an Iranian state-controlled publication closely tied to the IRGC. He said that these forces would operate with the goal of bolstering Iran’s hardline regime and thwarting potential plots against the Islamic Republic.

 The military leader’s comments come as Iran is spending great amounts of money to upgrade its military hardware and bolster its presence throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran intends to spend billions to purchase U.S.-made planes that are likely to be converted for use in its air force.

 Congressional leaders and others suspect that Iran has used a large portion of the cash windfall it received as a result of last summer’s nuclear agreement to upgrade its fighting capabilities war machine.

iranian-revolutionary-guard-1 “The IRGC is the strong guardian of the Islamic Republic,” Abnoush was quoted as saying. “The Fedayeen of Velayat [fighting force] are under the order of Iran’s Supreme leader. Defending and protecting the Velayat [the Supreme Leader] has no border and limit.”

 Iranian military and government officials have continued to advocate violence against the U.S. and its allies, despite the nuclear deal and several secret side agreements that gave Iran $1.7 billion in cash.

iran_rel_2001 Iran accuses the U.S. of violating its end of the agreement by not helping the Islamic Republic gain further access to international banks and other markets.

Iran’s frustration over this has led to further accusations about a U.S. plot to foster unrest in the country.

 “Our enemies have several projects to destroy our Islamic revolution, and have waged three wars against us to execute their plans against our Islamic Republic,” Abnoush said. “The IRGC has defeated enemies in several fronts. The enemy surrendered and accepted to negotiate with us.”

 “And now all of our problems are being solved and our country is becoming stronger in all fronts. Some believe the holy defense ended,” the military leader added. “They are wrong; the holy defense continues, and today, it is more complicated than before.”

 Congressional sources and experts involved in tracking Iran’s increased aggression in the region and elsewhere told media sources that these most recent comments are troubling given Iran’s very public efforts to assassinate political enemies and others across the globe.

 “If we look at Iran’s previous terror attacks and assassination campaign around the world, such a statement is alarming,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said. “The Islamic Republic has killed hundreds of Iranians and non-Iranians around the world in a coordinated campaign of terror. Iran may decide to restart the project now that many western companies are going to Iran and Iran feels its action in Europe may not be punished strongly.”

 Another source who advises congressional leaders on Iran sanctions issues said that the Obama administration is blocking Congress from taking action to stop this type of infiltration by Iranian forces.

 “Iran is ideologically, politically, and militarily committed to exporting the Islamic revolution through terrorism, which is why even the Obama administration says they’re the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” the source said. “Congress wants to act, but Obama officials keep saying that new laws are unnecessary because the U.S. has enough tools to block Iranian terror expansion. Instead of using those tools, though, they’re sending Iran billions of dollars in cash while Iran plants terror cells in Europe and here at home.”

ISIS hides bombs inside teddy bears and toy trucks, using improvised devices to target children as forces close in on Mosul

northern-iraq-mapIn the war-ravaged town of Mosul, a teddy bear or truck is a rare treasure to a child.

But these innocent-looking toys are actually the trigger for sinister booby traps that detonate as soon as they are touched.

An innocent-looking teddy bear is actually a bomb meant for Iraqi children
An innocent-looking teddy bear is actually a bomb meant for Iraqi children

The ploy marks a sickening new low for Islamic State, who currently hold Iraq’s second largest city, as they can only be intended to target children. Adults would walk straight past them.

These and other cunningly disguised improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been put on display at a training center for locally-trained bomb disposal experts as 40,000 soldiers, state-sanctioned militia members and other fighters prepare to encircle Mosul to cut off ISIS forces from outside help.

Colonel Nawzad Kamil Hassan, an engineer with the Kurdish forces, asked, ‘Why would ISIS use something nice, like a bear or a rabbit?

‘They used this toy because they know the Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] will not touch it but children will.’

This seemingly harmless toy truck is actually a trigger for an explosive device
This seemingly harmless toy truck is actually a trigger for an explosive device

He added: ‘They are not even animals. They are worse than animals.’

His unit has cleared 50 tons of explosives in two years from areas once controlled by militants, including five tons from a single school in Sinjar city to the west of Mosul.

The city, around 250 miles north of Baghdad, has been under ISIS control since June 2014. 

The offensive to take it back is the largest deployment of Iraqi forces since the 2003 invasion by the U.S. and coalition forces.

isis-flagThe U.S. military estimates ISIS has up to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and between 1,500 and 2,500 in a defensive belt around the city. 

Of these, around 1,000 are believed to be foreign fighters.

Other IEDs, including some with detonators attached to playing cards, watches and lengths of hosepipe, have been laid out to slow the encroaching forces and delay recovery should they succeed in seizing control.

Pakistan arrests National Geographic’s ‘Afghan girl’ Sharbat Gula

Sharbat Gula in the women's jail of Peshawar.
Sharbat Gula in the women’s jail of Peshawar.

An Afghan girl with haunting green eyes whose portrait on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 became one of the world’s most recognizable photographs has been arrested in Pakistan on charges of possessing forged identity papers, officials say.

Sharbat Gula, whose iconic image by photographer Steve McCurry earned her the title of “Mona Lisa of the Afghan war”, was taken into custody from her home in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar with two men, said to be her sons, police official Tahir Khan said.

An official of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a department that deals with forgery cases, confirmed the arrest.

“Our team together with police raided her house and recovered both Pakistani and Afghan IDs,” said FIA director Imran Shahid.

Sharbat Gula - then and now
Sharbat Gula – then and now

Now in her 40s, Sharbat Gula — also known as Sharbat Bibi — was arrested in Peshawar on Tuesday for falsifying documents and staying illegally in Pakistan, officials said.

An official of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) said she could face seven to 14 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 or be deported if convicted by court of fraud.

Omar Zakhilwal
Omar Zakhilwal

The top Afghan envoy in Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, who has been pursuing the case of 46-year-old Sharbat Gula with Pakistani officials, said a court in Peshawar will hear case on November 1, “in which we expect Sharbat Gula to be released”.

He said in a post on his official Facebook page that an Afghan legal team had taken up Sharbat Gula’s case with legal departments. He also took up her case with Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz.

peshawarThe arrest in Peshawar of Sharbat Gula, one of the world’s most recognized and famous and Afghanistan’s most beloved image, has deeply saddened all Afghans without exception and has hurt their emotions,” Zakhilwal wrote in his post.

The action was a “complete contradiction” of the Pakistan government’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” in Afghanistan, he added.

Zakhilwal also dismissed the charges leveled against Sharbat Gula, saying the Pakistani identity card she had “was not fake and neither was it obtained fraudulently”. He added there were more than 500,000 Afghan refugees who had been issued Pakistani IDs and the interior ministry was “very well aware” of this.

“In light of the implications Sharbat Gula’s arrest as well as release can have for Pak-Afghan people-to-people relations and also the legal weaknesses with the case on which she is charged, I requested Mr Sartaj Aziz that the Pakistan federal government issues a directive to release Sharbat Gula immediately. Mr Sartaj Aziz gave me his assurances for which I am grateful,” Zakhilwal said.

He pointed out a deadline set by Pakistan for Afghan refugees to return these ID cards was November 15, which was more than two weeks away.

If Sharbat Gula is released, the Afghan government will facilitate her family’s immediate repatriation and support her to resettle in her own country, Zakhilwal said. The envoy said Sharbat Gula’s husband and eldest daughter had died and she had sold her house just before her arrest.

Soviet army invades Afghanistan
Soviet army invades Afghanistan

Gula’s family fled to Pakistan with thousands of Afghan families when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Some obtained identity papers in a bid to stay on in Pakistan. Some three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, especially in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the semi-autonomous tribal areas.

ng_afghangirlIn 1984, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry took the haunting image of Sharbat Gula, then aged about 12, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar. The photo, which became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history, was likened to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

The photograph appeared on the National Geographic cover in June 1985, and was widely used to publicize the plight of refugees.

Last year Pakistan’s government began a crackdown on Afghan refugees who allegedly used forged documents to obtain Pakistani nationality. That’s when Gula’s name surfaced.

“It is a sign of the times in Pakistan, that it has now reached someone who was something of a celebrity in the ’80s, someone more high profile than the average,” said Nicholas Bishop, project development officer for the IOM in Afghanistan.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which assists undocumented migrants, says the arrest — although legal if the ID card is proven to be false — is symptomatic of the mounting pressure on Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return home.

Pakistan has said that it plans to send all of the estimated 2.5 million refugees back to Afghanistan as they have become an “unbearable” burden on the economy.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveils its 1st ‘suicide’ drone

Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone
Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone

On Wednesday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveiled a drone that was built for combat targets and to execute suicide missions. The Iranians have reported that the tiny aircraft can fly a distance of 1,000 km for four straight hours. 

According to reports out of Iran, the “suicide” drone is equipped with advanced military-grade cameras that enable day-time and night-time espionage missions. It should be able to fly from a height of half a meter to 914 meters, allowing the drone to hit any target on land or at sea.

Furthermore, the Iranian drone can fly at a maximum speed of 250 km per hour and is also able to land on water. Although missiles cannot be loaded onto the drone, it can be filled with a large amount of explosives in order to carry out suicide missions.

Senior ISIS Jihadis Move Wives Out of Mosul

Members of the feared and brutal all-female Islamic-State Al-Khansa Brigade. Now those women are on the run from Iraqi forces
Members of the feared and brutal all-female Islamic-State Al-Khansa Brigade. Now those women are on the run from Iraqi forces

In preparation for the battle to take back the Iraqi city of Mosul, reports indicate that senior Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) fighters are trying to save their wives from being captured by Iraqi forces

A local source in the Nineveh Governorate who requested anonymity told Alsumaria News on Wednesday, October 19, “In the past two days, the city of Mosul has been cleared from ‘the women of the caliphate’ — wives of the seniors of ISIS, especially the ones that carry Arab or foreign citizenships.

“They were moved to the Syrian cities under ISIS [control], including Al-Raqqah. The departure of ‘the women of the caliphate’ has been given a green light by [self-proclaimed caliph] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in order to prevent their captivity, in case Mosul will be freed by the security Iraqi forces.” 

In related news, another source in the Nineveh Governorate reported that the previous day, an uprising by youth in Mosul overtook control an ISIS position. The source said that the youth killed two ISIS jihadis, burned their car and raised the Iraqi flag, before retreating to safety.

Russia sends warships toward Syria via the English Channel — and with them, a message

russian-aircraft-carrier-admiral-kuznetsov-in-the-english-channel-21-october-2016In scenes that haven’t been common since the end of the Cold War, Russian warships sailed through the English Channel early Friday in a theatrical display of Russian military might.

Britain dispatched two of its own warships to carefully monitor the Russian flotilla, which included the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, as it sailed by, reportedly enroute to the eastern Mediterranean to aid in the war in Syria.

The aircraft carrier can hold as many as 40 planes, and it is suspected that they will be used in the bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Given Russia’s fierce bombardment of that city, many Western military officials see the ships’ course as a slow-moving harbinger of bloodshed to come in Syria. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned the Kremlin on Thursday not to take any step that would escalate the violence.

“We are concerned that the Russian carrier group will support military operations in Syria in ways which will increase humanitarian and human suffering,” Stoltenberg said.

In Britain on Friday, there was widespread coverage of the Russian fleet sailing near English waters. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that it would be marked “every step of the way” as part of the government’s “steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon

It is routine for Britain’s Royal Navy to shadow ships, but the route taken by the Russian convoy — through the English Channel — was not routine.

“There’s huge amounts of theater here,” Paul Beaver, an aviation historian, told the BBC. He said that normally the Russians would “go around the top of Scotland, down past Hebrides, past Ireland on a deployment, and actually that’s probably the quickest route. This is very much about power play…. They want to be seen to be doing these things.”

And seen they were. Several British television stations broadcast footage of the carrier billowing black smoke as it sailed through international waters between Britain and France.

Jonathan Eyal, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the passage through the English Channel in particular was a clear message from the Russians that “they are back” and that “anything you can do, we can do as well,” he said.

Analysts said that the move was an intentional snub toward Britain as one of Europe’s most vocal critics of Russia’s role in Syria.

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

 “It was thanks to the U.K. that Russian action in Syria was on the agenda for this summit,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said, referring to a summit of the European Union’s 28 leaders Thursday and Friday. “It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia to stop the assault on Aleppo,” she told reporters.

But so far, Russia’s opponents have proven too divided to respond with any concrete measures. NATO has no plans to get involved, and at the E.U. summit, France, Germany and Britain failed to reach the unanimity required to put sanctions on the table over Russia’s actions in Syria. Diplomats warned that could change if Russia continues to contribute to Aleppo’s bombardment.

French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande

f“If Russia continues its airstrikes, it would expose itself to a response that the union would decide on, but we’re not there,” French President François Hollande said Friday after a meeting that was focused on Europe’s deteriorating relationship with the Kremlin.

approximate-path-of-russian-naval-groupRussian warships steam through English Channel as U.N. warns of war crimes in Aleppo

Russia has taken steps in recent weeks to reestablish itself as a permanent power in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean, ratifying an open-ended agreement to lease Syria’s Khmeimim air base and declaring that it will upgrade its naval facility in the Syrian port town of Tartus to a permanent naval base. The Kuznetsov will add to the firepower, both offensive and defensive, that Russia has concentrated in the region.

Aircraft flying from the Kuznetsov will increase the payload raining down daily on east Aleppo, especially if the carrier bears a full load of 40 aircraft, likely matching the current complement already on the ground.

Built during the Soviet era and launched as the Leonid Brezhnev, the aircraft carrier has deployed to the Mediterranean a total of five times during its 26 years in service, most recently in 2014. But this would be the carrier’s first combat deployment off Syria, where a Russian and Syrian blitz on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo has brought that city to its knees.